Playoff seedings will start getting speculated on very soon, and the Bucs have put themselves in a position where they’re playing from behind. Familiar territory unfortunately.
In the end, it was an up and down game with one half going much better than the other and it all came down to a field goal kicker. What else is new. Last week, it was Tampa Bay winning on a walk-off kick. This week, it was the Bengals. How did we get there?
THE PLAY: Interceptions
This isn’t the only multi-play package you’ll find in this week’s column. And why beat around the bush.
Losing to Cincinnati falls squarely on the shoulders of Jameis Winston. He accepted as much in his post-game press conference.
I’ve been a supporter of his on the field while not liking some of his actions off of it. He’s shown flashes of greatness and always struggled to get consistency out of himself.
He was benched in this game because of it. And may not see the field for the Buccaneers again this year.
I wrote about this, here.
Not much more to say about the topic for now. Here are some gifs in case you missed it in person.
THE PLAY: Penalties
Hard Count is one of my favorite columns to write each week for Bucs Nation. It’s not one of my favorite things to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line have to endure against Andy Dalton in Week 8.
The Bucs finished the game with eleven penalties for 75-yards. Four of them were offsides or neutral zone infractions. Three of those came on third-downs.
Three of these specific penalties came in the first half and helped the Bengals get out to an eighteen point halftime lead, among other things.
While they may not make many highlight reels or be remembered by fans weeks from the game, Cincinnati came into the game as one of the better teams in the NFL converting first downs.
Giving away free yards to a team not needing much help is a sure way to defeat yourself, and won’t help any defense trying to make up for early turnovers by their offense.
THE PLAY: Dirk Koetter’s Challenge
With the score 21-6 and just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton found wide receiver Alex Erickson for a five-yard gain on 3rd-and-5 from their own 30-yard line.
The play happened right in front of Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, and after conferring with someone in his headset for a second or two, he dropped his challenge flag.
After review the play stood, was not confirmed, and the Bengals had a first down. Tampa Bay was charged with a challenge and a timeout.
In the moment, not a bad decision. Had the call got reversed it would have provided Winston and the offense a key opportunity to get back in the game with the second half kickoff being sent their way again.
Spot calls are hard to reverse though as there isn’t often a clear and indisputable view of the ball being cradled by a player.
To be clear, I didn’t disagree with the challenge. But I wrote it down when it happened, because that lost timeout was big.
Cincinnati went on to score and make it a 27-6 score after kicker Randy Bullock missed the extra point.
The Bucs got the ball back with two and a half minutes remaining in the half and drove down to the Bengals’ seven-yard line. The play which got them there was a completion to Adam Humphries for a first-down.
Only problem was, the Bucs had no timeouts and just twenty-one seconds remaining by the time they snapped the ball for the next play.
This meant Winston had no choice but to target the end zone on every single pass remaining. He knew it, and the Bengals knew it.
Three failed attempts later, Chandler Catanzaro put up his first field goal of the game and the Bucs went into the locker room with nine points.
Having one timeout in his pocket would have opened up a few more options for the offense, and perhaps would have led to a touchdown instead of a field goal. Perhaps.
THE PLAY: Fitzmagic Returns
Following his fourth - and perhaps most frustrating - interception of the game, coach Koetter pulled Winston and brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The veteran quarterback proceeded to take his team down the field three of the four times he got the ball and his team put up eighteen points on the Bengals defense by way of a field goal, two touchdown passes and a two-point conversion to wide receiver Chris Godwin.
All of the magic fell short though, as a Randy Bullock field goal as time expired gave the Bengals the win.
But the difference in the offense was undeniable and in his post-game press conference coach Koetter even admitted to considering the move earlier, but waited due to Winston’s big connection with DeSean Jackson in the second quarter.
There’s no way to prove alternate reality theories of course, but I think most would agree had Fitzpatrick come in earlier, there’s a good chance this team throws two-fewer interceptions and doesn’t surrender a pick-six in the third quarter.
THE PLAY: Fitzpatrick Hits the Flat
I chronicled strategies for converting third downs against this Bengals defense in a post before the game.
In it, I specifically reviewed which kinds of plays Cincinnati defended well and which they didn’t on third downs.
DeSean Jackson was the player I identified as being the biggest Bucs player who could help the team achieve this success, and I specifically listed in breaking routes, slants, and drag routes as the ones to use.
On 3rd-and-5 from Tampa Bay’s own 20-yard line, Fitzpatrick went to the right player, but the offense had the wrong route.
Running Jackson out of the backfield and into the flat isn’t going to work against most defenses. I get trying to get him into open space, but the Bengals defense hadn’t missed many tackles up to that point, so it wasn’t likely they would miss one here.
The characteristic found in my film study was that the Bengals defense simply didn’t stay with receivers crossing in front of the quarterback well and often fell behind leaving room for a run and catch scenario.
It was the only drive Fitzpatrick didn’t take the offense down and score on. So, we can’t get too upset about it. But given the way the game ended, a field goal or touchdown may have very well allowed Tampa Bay to escape Ohio’s ‘Queen City’ with a win, rather than a loss.
Which play(s) led the Buccaneers to defeat the most?
This poll is closed
Early defensive penalties
No timeouts in goal-to-go
Failed late third-down conversion